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The blasts of gunfire ended decades ago, but the poisons from Agent Orange still linger in the bodies of area Vietnam veterans.
A national civilian group called the Order of the Silver Rose acknowledged the valor and struggles of these veterans yesterday during a ceremony at the Erie Street Market, where 12 veterans and the entire VFW Maumee Valley Post received Silver Rose awards.
The medal is given to veterans with medical problems that doctors believe were caused by Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant used by American forces during the Vietnam War.
"Some of these men are dying from the inside out and don't get any recognition," award recipient Terrence Keith Kidwell said. He served with the Army in Vietnam and has battled lung cancer and diabetes.
More than a hundred people gathered to watch the awards ceremony, which was the third formal Silver Rose ceremony in the Toledo area. Including yesterday's recipients, 35 Toledo-area veterans have gotten the awards, said Shirley Norton, the Silver Rose director for Ohio.
The Silver Rose program was founded in 1997 and has recognized roughly 1,100 veterans around the country.
"These gentlemen stepped forward to fight a war they were asked to fight, and they did it with honor," Ms. Norton said. "This is our way of thanking them and telling them what they mean to us."
The Order of the Silver Rose ultimately would like veterans with illnesses linked to Agent Orange to receive Purple Heart awards from the military. Right now, these veterans do not qualify for Purple Hearts, given to troops wounded in combat.
The Veterans Administration recognizes eight cancers and 28 sarcomas as being connected to Agent Orange. All told, the government recognizes its role in 43 cancers and other illnesses.
"We all agree that Agent Orange existed, and we need to remember the people that were affected by it," Toledo Councilman Bob McCloskey said.
Councilman McCloskey led the awards ceremony, which featured patriotic music, speeches from Silver Rose recipients, and remarks from U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo).
Miss Kaptur praised the award recipients and spoke about lessons the nation learned from the "Vietnam generation," including the importance of honoring all American troops. She also talked about the responsibility of America's leaders to thoroughly debate decisions to go to war.
Silver Rose recipient Jose Flores of Findlay said the ceremony brought to mind the troops now serving in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. Mr. Flores did two tours in Vietnam with the Navy and has Agent Orange-related diabetes.
"This award means so much to me," he said. "I'd like to share it with everyone fighting now."
Other veterans who received the Silver Rose awards yesterday include Richard Hartley, Clyde Lopez, Robert M. Gardner, Luke P. Patrino, Homer Simpkins, Ernest Vasquez, and Francisco Estrada, all of Toledo; Ramiro Almaguer of Fremont, and Robert E. Greenlese of Waterville. One recipient requested that his name not be used.